Priest welcomed to Catholic church

Father Marc Powell. - Sy Bean photo
Father Marc Powell.
— image credit: Sy Bean photo

Rather than lecturing or reciting Bible verse, Father Marc Powell read a story he’d written about a farm boy during church last week.

His homily, delivered expressively and emphatically, was as much an original theater piece as it was a sermon.

Powell, St. John Vianney Catholic Church’s new priest, wrote the short story, about Xavier’s struggles on the farm, for his parishioners. The soliloquy highlighted Powell’s passion for acting and playwriting, as well as his creativity in delivering a spiritual message.

But what was less evident from the pews last Sunday is that Powell, a self-described introvert, is also a saxophone player, an enthusiastic chef and a former professional journalist.

He’s a welcome fresh face at a congregation that’s had a tumultuous past year. After longtime priest Richard Roach died in November, the parish was without a permanent pastor, then saw a temporary priest from Uganda come and go. So it’s little wonder that parishioners seem thrilled that Powell, 38, has come to the church.

“He’s a very nice person,” said parish administrator Constance Walker. “He’s a very good listener, and I believe that he also responds to things that he hears — he’s responsive; he doesn’t just listen.”

Powell has reached out to get to know his parishioners since arriving on Vashon.

Ordained as a Catholic priest in 2003, Powell served in three other Puget Sound area churches before coming to St. John Vianney, a congregation of 240 families. Powell moved into the church’s rectory, a five-minute walk from the church on 115th Avenue S.W., on July 1. So far, he and the community seem to be a good fit, he said.

“There’s a warm and effervescent spirit in the people here,” Powell said. “They have been very eager to have a resident priest again. They’ve been extremely welcoming and hospitable.”

Powell, who earned a degree in journalism and worked for three years as a reporter for The Tacoma News Tribune before entering a seminary in 1997, said he left the newspaper to become a man of the cloth because he was dissatisfied.

“I discovered I didn’t want to be an observer of people’s lives as a reporter, but wanted to be actively involved with a message that would be uplifting to them,” Powell said. “That was God’s message and the church’s message that I wanted to convey.”

Raised Catholic in Michigan and Spanaway, Powell wrote in a recent Sunday bulletin that his parents are “Christ figures” in his life. Indeed, both his homily, which is reprinted in the bulletin, and his message to his congregation were personal and illuminating.

Powell said a strength he brings to Vashon’s Catholic congregation is his ability “to help others pursue God intellectually through the church.”

A strength of the parish, he added, is “their love of learning.”

He said he is in the process of observing and evaluating the biggest needs of the church and the larger community. After less than a month on the job, he already had met with leaders from some of the Island’s other faith communities and had ideas for ways they could coordinate their efforts.

“I think the big thing is trying to connect with my fellow ministers on the Island,” Powell said.

The group is working on ministering to the residents of the Vashon Community Care Center, for example, he said.

“Teaming up with other churches in outreach situations is something that will connect (St. John Vianney) to the community, I think,” Powell said. “On an Island this small, there’s no reason why we can’t work together.”

He extended an invitation to all Island residents to check out the Catholic church, a group he said is close-knit and welcoming.

Congregation member Maria Pottinger, who puts together the church’s Sunday bulletin, said she’s glad to have the friendly priest on board.

“He’s a breath of fresh air, because he has gifts that are different than Father Roach’s,” she said. “He’s so good with people. He has a really great presence in the sanctuary.”

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